WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When a house is on fire, you don't lock
the doors to the outside to help save the people trapped inside, but that's
what U.S. policy is doing when it brings to an end two immigration programs
that have helped more than 200,000 Salvadorans live, study and work in the
U.S., said a U.S. archbishop April 13.
Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski made the comments as as he joined Salvadoran
bishops in Washington on a panel about the roots causes of poverty, violence
Archbishop Wenski accompanied Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar
Alas of San Salvador, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez and two
other Salvadoran bishops on the last day of a historic visit by the prelates to
plead with U.S. lawmakers to protect through legislation Salvadorans who
benefit from Temporary Protected Status and the Deferred Action for Childhood
Returning the combined 215,000 Salvadorans who benefit from
those programs to the country's unrelenting violence and economic instability
would mean devastating the nation further, breaking up families in the process
and taking away the only income some families have, they said.
TPS and DACA provide work permits and other protections to
immigrants who meet certain criteria. The Trump administration announced
these programs were ending. The future of DACA is temporarily tied up
in the courts and also
is pending action from Congress, which has expressed willingness to
protection for the beneficiaries in some form. TPS recipients from El
however, have been told to get their affairs in order by the time the
expires in September 2019.
"We're here this week to support the church in El Salvador
because we speak with one voice and because the end of TPS represents a real
crisis, not only for those who are here ... but also for the people in El
Salvador," said Archbishop Wenski. "The end of TPS presents a real crisis."
Archbishop Escobar said El Salvador does not want to see its
people leave but often it's not a choice.
"If people leave, it's because of the situation in the
country," including the violence at the hands of gangs that affects the poor
and working class and the lack of opportunities that sometimes drive youth to
join the violence, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Escobar said the meetings in Washington, facilitated
by officials from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee
Services and Catholic Relief Services, were to express the need to keep the immigration
programs alive. They also were a chance to tell U.S. officials that the country needs aid to
develop economic opportunities for its people, not just to combat violence. After
all, poor economic conditions have been largely to blame for the country's
history of violence.
Social exclusion, idolatry of money, impunity, corruption
and individualism have been to blame for the problems that led to a 12-year
civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s, but also for the current strife,
Archbishop Escobar said.
Cardinal Rosa Chavez, who said he works with a program that
reaches out to gang members, explained that he has spoken to some of the youth and asked
them why they felt the need for violence. He also, he said, has asked them why they were
willing to accept the help the church was giving them.
Some of them spoke of bad environments, at
home or in their neighborhood, and said they went to the church programs
because they felt loved. That helped him realize that people are like fish in a
tank, he said. If you don't have clean conditions in the water, the fish get
upset and fight each other. But if the water is clean, the fish are happy, he
"We need to change the water," meaning the environment which some
folks are surrounded by in El Salvador and that means changing their economic
and other conditions, he said.
Even those who victimize, "they, too, are victims," he said.
The bishops said sending Salvadorans back would only create
a bigger problem, not to mention that those who have left have already found a
way to thrive in their adoptive country, including many who are vibrant members
of faith communities.
"To think that El Salvador could absorb 200,000 people at
this time is not realistic," said Archbishop
Wenski. "To send these people back would not be sending them back home. Home is
here. It's not there. Home is here. The bishops of El Salvador recognize that.
So do the bishops in the United States."